The number of California voters who are undecided on how to vote on two competing tax measures has increased with fewer than seven weeks left before the November election, and Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 is barely hanging on to a majority, according to a new poll.
The poll shows that Prop. 30 has the support of 51 percent of Californians while Proposition 38, a tax-raising measure pushed by multimillionaire Molly Munger, has 41 percent of voter support.
Both measures need a majority vote to pass.
While support dropped slightly for both propositions from a July survey, that decrease was within the margin of error of the survey.
The survey was conducted by the Institute for Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley-Field Poll. Another poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California showed similar levels of support and opposition.
According to the UC Berkeley-Field Poll, 51 percent of likely voters surveyed support Prop. 30, while 36 percent said they would vote against it. Thirteen percent were undecided.
For Prop. 38, 41 percent of likely voters surveyed said they would vote in favor, 44 percent said they would vote against it, and 15 percent said they were undecided.
Weighing the merits
Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, said the shift of people into the undecided category for both measures - an increase of 5 percentage points for Prop. 30 and 7 percentage points for Prop. 38 - shows voters are beginning to weigh the merits of the competing measures.
"I think people are starting to hear campaign claims and they're getting the fact that there are two different things," he said. "If I'm for the schools, which one do I go with? I think that's really what's happening."
He said the poll results are still an early measure of voters' attitudes.
"Once voters get the actual ballot pamphlets from the registrar of voters ... that's really when the rubber is meeting the road. We're still not there yet," he said.
Prop. 30 details
Prop. 30 would increase the sales tax by 1 cent for every $4 for four years and increase the personal income tax rate on individuals earning more than $250,000 a year and couples earning more than $500,000 a year for seven years. The money generated, with estimates ranging from $6 billion to $9 billion per year, would be spent on general state services, including publiceducation.
Voter rejection of Prop. 30 would trigger nearly $6 billion in spending cuts, including $5.3 billion from K-12 public schools and community colleges. The University of California and California State University systems would each take a $250 million cut.
Some school districts have already made contingency plans in case the measure fails and Wednesday the CSU trustees approved a tuition increase if voters reject the tax.
Opponents of the measure say the spending cuts are akin to a multibillion-dollar ransom note to voters from the governor.
Prop. 38 details
Prop. 38 would raise the personal income tax rate on nearly everyone for 12 years, with the highest earners paying the most by far. It would raise as much as $10 billion per year, with the money dedicated almost entirely to K-12 public schools.
If Prop. 38 passes and Prop. 30 fails, the automatic spending cuts still would take effect. If both pass, the measure that receives more votes takes effect.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California poll, 52 percent support Prop. 30, while 40 percent are opposed and 8 percent have no opinion.
That the support and opposition have remained relatively stable show that recent political developments that some have said would doom the governor's tax measure - including the approval of billions in spending on high-speed rail and millions that were hidden in the parks budget - have not affected voters, said Jack Citrin, professor of political science at UC Berkeley and director of the Institute for Governmental Studies.
"I think the pro (Prop. 30) side has weathered some bad news," Citrin said.
And while conventional wisdom in Sacramento says tax measures need to start with support around 60 percent, Citrin said that may just be conventional thinking and not very wise.
That's an argument made by those running Brown's tax campaign. Ace Smith, a San Francisco-based political consultant who has been challenging what he has called "stale" thinking on what it takes to pass a tax initiative, said the number of voters who can be persuaded to change their minds in both national and local elections has shrunk.
Because of that, he said, "The strategy is very basic. It's really about holding and growing our base and really having a good conversation with those voters who are up for grabs."
Get ready for TV ads
The first television ads for the propositions are expected to start airing in the next few weeks.
Even backers of Prop. 38, which has yet to pass the 50 percent threshold in any public poll, said they are still positive about their prospects.
"Once we begin the air war, our numbers will start to climb as voters learn about how Prop. 38 can help schools," said Nathan Ballard, spokesman for the Prop. 38 campaign.
The UC Berkeley-Field Poll was based on a survey of 1,183 registered California voters and was conducted from Sept. 6 to Sept. 18. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
The Public Policy Institute of California poll was based on a survey of 2,003 California adult residents from Sept. 9 to Sept. 16. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points for likely voters.